The LTA is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of British tennis icon and Davis Cup legend, Bobby Wilson – a player who entertained fans on court before going on to make a decades-long contribution to tennis in his community as a coach.
Renowned as a fan favourite for his entertaining style of play and fighting spirit during the 1950s and 60s, Wilson is one of Great Britain’s most successful Davis Cup heroes, having played a record 34 ties. He remains to this day the all-time leader in British doubles wins at the Davis Cup.
During his 19-year singles career, Wilson reached seven Grand Slam quarter-finals including four at the Wimbledon where he played some of his most memorable matches, including a highlight victory against the top seed and reigning champion Neale Fraser in 1961. A prolific player on the singles court, Wilson also enjoyed success in doubles, reaching the Wimbledon final in 1960 alongside his partner Mike Davies.
Born in Hendon, North-West London on 22 November 1935, Robert Keith Wilson developed his love for the game from an early age thanks to the influence of his mother, Jessie. An amateur club-player herself, Jessie recognised that her son had a gift and dedicated her time to training him at their local club at Finchley Manor.
Having visited Wimbledon with his mum as a child, Wilson had keen aspirations of making it to the top and in 1951 became the British Junior Champion. The following year he went on to make his senior Wimbledon debut and won the junior singles title to begin his love affair with SW19.
As an amateur player in the 1950s, Wilson also had to get a day job to support his tennis. The tennis prodigy completed National Service in the RAF and continued on to serve as a training officer in the Manpower Services Commission.
In 1958, Wilson played his part in an historic moment in the future of the Olympic Games, where he, alongside many other sports stars, signed a letter to The Times newspaper opposing ‘the policy of apartheid’ in international sport and defending ‘the principle of racial equality’. This is now embodied in the Declaration of the Olympic Games.
During an exciting career, Wilson will forever be remembered for his heroics for Great Britain in the Davis Cup. Wilson won 41 out of the 61 rubbers he played and in 1963, he played a key role in helping the Brits win the Europe Zone against Sweden before falling to the United States in the Inter-Zonal semi-finals.
The same year proved to be the most successful in Wilson’s career. He reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, where he defeated 6th seed Bob Hewitt, as well as Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Wilson had his best chance of making a major semi-final at Forest Hills that year, when he lost a two set lead to the unseeded Frank Foehling.
Wilson continued to play doubles long after is singles career was over and in 1977 he played his final Wimbledon in the mixed doubles draw, aged 41, where he lost a first round opener against Mary Carillo and John McEnroe.
After his retirement from the international game, Wilson became a coach at Chandos Lawn Tennis Club in Golders Green. Here Wilson remained in coaching until shortly before his passing, giving a lifetime of dedication to the sport.
Bobby Wilson will forever be remembered in the heart and memories of tennis and sports fans across the world and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.